I ended my month in New Zealand back where it began – Auckland – but now that the culture shock was gone and I was lucky enough to have a local tour guide this revisit was nothing like my first time there.
Auckland has a lot more to offer than I realized, probably because most of what it has you need a car to get to. I couldn’t have had such a great second visit there if it wasn’t for Kevin, a friend from my NYC days who just happened to be back home in Auckland while I was in town. Fate!
Kevin showed me a great mixture of Auckland activities, from hiking days to indulgent desserts, so that the next time I hung out with a bunch of Kiwis from Auckland (which incidentally was my next few days in Sydney) they were surprised when I said I liked my time there.
In short, over the course of 5 days we: hiked up One Tree Hill to see the sprawl of the city from above; wandered the trails around Piha beach, from a jungle walk to a three-tiered waterfall to the vertical hike up Lion Rock, a huge rock in the center of the sparkling black sand beach; had huge green NZ mussels (forever ruining for me the normal tiny mussels in the US); climbed the volcano Rangitoto Island; finally had some great NZ fish and chips while checking out Mission Beach; went to probably the best dessert restaurant I’ve ever been to, Chocolate Boutique in Parnell; went wine tasting on Waiheke Island; checked out a fantastic light art show at the Auckland Art Gallery followed by more delicious desserts, this time Chocolate Lahroaig ice cream at Giapo; had a true NZ steak and cheese pie (#2 in the city) in Ponsonby; and saw one final volcanic crater with a view of Auckland from Mount Eden. Add in some great hot tub and sauna sessions at the apartment complex and the amazingness of staying in a home with Kevin and his dad, a room to myself, tea with avocado and honey on toast breakfasts, and some fantastic home cooked dinners, and it’s clear why this return to Auckland left a much better impression than my first round there about 4 weeks earlier.
My final days in Auckland were the perfect end to a month in NZ. Much like leaving South America by staying put in BA for an extended time, staying with a friend in his home was the perfect recharge before my next phase. I really can’t thank Kevin and his dad enough; I was so lucky to have experienced such amazing hospitality.
When I got to the airport (at way too early an hour, the gates weren’t even open yet) I felt ready to move on to Australia and happy with the time I had in the great country of New Zealand. I have come to accept that there will always be more to see in the countries I’m visiting on this trip, but I left NZ satisfied with my experience.